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Hartman de Souza, Hindustan Times
October 27, 2011
Pro-environment activists and believers in Goa have had their bit of learning after the arrival of the Justice MB Shah Commission on illegal mining, an initiative by the Union government to assess, curtail and hopefully compensate Goa for being looted by its own ministers and their cronies.

First and foremost, echoing the call of many small-town Indians is a growing dislike for TV news channels, who descend on Panjim like a certain species of bird. Take the case of a woman battling both ministers and miners, who’s called at 5.30 pm to appear on a panel on illegal mining at 6.30 pm. Or take the case of another channel that blocked the time of a person neck-deep in pursuing the mining industry in the courts, then cancelled the programme without informing him. It’s not that environment activists in Goa haven’t received such treatment before. More than a year ago, a news channel in Delhi was contacted and asked to cover the obvious crimes related to mining. “Oh, we just did a story on mining in Goa three months ago,” they replied. One of the ‘better’ incidents, of course, is the one in which a French film crew was recently taken to Cawrem, an area in Goa where villagers have successfully closed down a patently illegal mine. It is the first time that such a thing has happened in Goa. Excited about shooting a village spring which the mine may have dried up, along with one of the villagers, the videographer was stopped by his producer, a woman, who said, “How can you shoot with him dressed like this (he was wearing a shirt, trousers and shoes)? He’s not dressed like a farmer.”

Though the print and online media have been exemplary, and people trust them, they also fumble reality at times.

The story that broke the skullduggery in Goa first appeared on Firstpost. Later, it was methodically pursued by reporters from Hindustan Times’ Mumbai bureau. But what many people don’t know is that the Firstpost story was first commissioned when the reporter concerned was working for another magazine, which takes pride in being politically neutral. The story remained in limbo for two weeks. It saw the light of day only when the reporter left the organisation, took the story with him, made one more trip to Goa and uncovered some more irregularities.

Environmentalists in Goa were, however, not puzzled by the said magazine’s reluctance to go after the Goa government and its home-grown mining barons, given that it had sent a reporter earlier and had blocked that story then too. The magazine’s proprietor had bought an old house in a Goan village. Even as I write this, he is bending rules to get the house refurbished into a new age spa. Just across the house was an old jackfruit tree, which was cut even when the inside of its thick turmeric-coloured centre was still gleaming with moisture. It’s anybody’s guess how many more old trees would have been cut inside the vast perimeter of the property to make way for lawns, garden and ponds. It doesn’t end there. The said magazine will soon hold an ‘ideas’ jamboree in Panjim at a hotel which is owned by a mining company.

It’s a clear case of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Perhaps a better word to describe it is ‘complicity’, which environmentalists say will ensure a systematic destruction of Goa. From government officials, who may have invested in mining trucks, to media barons-in-the-making, who look the other way when the loot is distributed, everyone is involved in the dirty business of illegal mining in Goa.

Hartman de Souza is a theatre veteran based in Pune

The views expressed by the author are personal